HIV positive people in Sri Lanka to now get health coverage

Four insurance firms will bear HIV-related medical costs; move aimed at increasing access to treatment

By Moushumi Sharma
Published: Tuesday 08 July 2014

UN's International Labour Organization played an imporatnt role in pushing for medical insurance for HIV positive people in Sri LankaThanks to efforts by the International Labour Organization (ILO), four health firms in Sri Lanka have modified their policy to remove HIV-related exclusion clauses. These firms—Janashakti Insurance PLC, People’s Insurance Ltd, Alliance Insurance Pvt Ltd and Cooperative Insurance Company Ltd—will now pay for the medical expenses of HIV positive people in the country.

The policy shift comes as a relief to many infected with the virus. “This will really be helpful for positive people in cases of medical emergency. It can also help to enhance the quality of life for us and our families and reduce stigma and discrimination towards us,” Palitha Bandara, who was diagnosed with HIV eight years ago, told ILO News. Bandara is a member of Sri Lanka’s Positive Hopes Alliance, a network for people living with HIV.

ILO takes the lead

Since the past few years, ILO has been actively advocating for a national dialogue with health insurance companies in the island nation. Addressing the country’s quarterly CEO forum in August last year, Indira Hettiarachchi, ILO national project coordinator for Sri Lanka, emphasised that HIV coverage would not burden insurance companies with major costs. Hettiarachchi put forward an evidence-based, humane and economic argument to convince CEOs to overhaul their firms’ policies, reports ILO News.

In June this year, ILO released a study in Geneva on the role of the public sector in social protection. The study was conducted in Guatemala, Indonesia, Rwanda and Ukraine. It highlighted the issue of high out-of-pocket expenses, including transportation costs, in accessing free government-provided antiretroviral medication. The study concluded that majority of those living with HIV, particularly women and transgenders, are not covered for medical expenses as they are more likely to work in the informal economy, often without contracts.

Milestone for HIV patients

ILO country director Donglin Li believes this is a milestone in improving social protection for people infected with HIV. “We are confident that more insurance companies will join this initiative, which is a significant step towards eliminating discrimination,” ILO News quotes Li. It remains to be seen whether the move of the four insurers will motivate all 20 of Sri Lanka’s insurance companies to drop HIV-related exclusion clauses.

Alice Ouedraogo, chief of ILOAIDS, Geneva, says it is equally important for the private sector to complement the effort of governments and extend health insurance to people living with HIV. “I hope the initiative of Sri Lankan insurance companies will be replicated in other countries as well,” she says.


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